“If you can imagine what it’s like to see a group of teens rehearsing The Laramie Project in a major, award winning theater, in Palm Beach County, with the full support of their parents and friends, it has to make you believe in life,” said Sarah Helen Land, a lesbian and a member of the voice faculty at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.
Land was one of the several gay adults, many from the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of the Palm Beaches, invited to talk with the members of the theater’s 2012 Youth Artists’ Chair as this team of 16 youth aged 13 to 18 sought to expand their understanding of anti-gay bullying in preparation for their production of The Laramie Project. The play will be offered for one night only on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m.
The Laramie Project is a unique theatric production created by Moises Kaufman and his Tectonic Theatre Company who spent a year traveling to Laramie, Wyoming, from New York, interviewing residents of the city that was torn apart when two young locals pistol-whipped, tortured and beat the 21-year old Matthew Shepard, tying him to a fence outside the city where he fell into a coma in the freezing night.
Shepard, whose skull was so severely crushed that surgery was not possible, never regained consciousness. He died several days later at a Colorado hospital. The death, burial, and trials captured global attention, and national and international news media descended on Laramie, a college town of about 30,000 inhabitants.
Kaufman and his team captured the townspeople’s sentiments about the event, the aftermath, and the media invasion. Interviewees shared their feelings ranging from anger to self-righteousness to compassion to fear. Their personal stories became the dialogue for the play.
“I’m just 21 myself,” said Scott Sebree, from MCC. “I had never heard of the play and am dying to see it. These kids were really great. You could see their compassion as they heard some of the stories of our lives growing up in more restrictive times.”
“I was probably the oldest one there,” said Alice McCullagh. “I told them about how hard it was to find other people like us and how I used to go to this placed called ‘Kookies’ on 7th Ave. in Manhattan. Two big men in black suits watched everybody who came to the door. The kids seemed amazed.”
MCCer Dean Nussbaum said he was familiar with the play but this production will be the first time he’s seen it.
“These are pretty courageous kids to take on a project like this,” he said. “I was a school counselor for 30 years and worked with gay groups in the past and it’s a significant thing for young people, gay or straight, to be able to discuss these issues.”
Brian Andrews, a teacher of theater and dance at the Maltz who shared his story with the youth summed it up by saying, “The kids have gotten to see what it’s like to be in a place like the Maltz where it’s safe for everybody to be who they are. I just gave them gay history like the Anita Bryant thing and Fred Phelps and now the marriage issues. They really wanted to know, and I know their performances will be stronger because of this.”
Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children. The Saturday evening performance is at 8 p.m. on Sept. 8.
For more information or tickets visit www.jupitertheatre.org or call the box office at 561-575-2223.
“We hope members of the South Florida gay community, and the community at large, will come support this production,” said Linnea Brown, director of public relations at the Maltz. “The Matthew Shepard story from the perspective of the Laramie inhabitants is powerful and these young people are doing an incredible job.”
If you go
Saturday, Sept. 8, 8 p.m.
The Maltz Theatre
1001 E. Indiantown Road
Jupiter, FL 33447
$20 for adults
$15 for children